Artist Eloy Torrez grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and moved to Los Angeles from Barstow in 1979. By the 1980s, he had become known for his murals, which depict everyone from old Hollywood stars to anonymous figures in a vivid and deeply psychological style. If you live in Los Angeles, you might have seen them –– dancing and laughing and towering over us from the walls of urban buildings.
In 2014, Torrez painted a series of four panels entitled ‘The Steps We Take’ for Metro’s El Monte Station. In 2022, he became one of four artists selected by Metro Art to create works for the Westwood/VA Hospital Station, which is part of our Purple (D Line) Extension project. Here’s what he has to say about his inspirations and the processes behind his new work.
By Eloy Torrez
I wanted to become an artist as a kid when I went to church with my parents on Sundays and I would look at the art on the walls. You realize that they’re not just photographs. Somebody made them! When you’re a kid, you’re curious. So you go to the library and look them up. There weren’t too many women highlighted from that time period, but it was where I learned about Raphael and Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists.
The church was the museum for me. You saw these figures in exalted poses. They’re on some kind of high. They’re experiencing something intense. That really made an impression, and I turned it into a game. How do you draw something with pencil on paper that will give off this vibe? How can you make people feel these emotions? For a kid, art is like magic.
Curiosity is what got me into muralism. I saw some of Kent Twitchell’s work -– these larger than life images. I had an art teacher in Barstow who did large projects, like graduation backdrops, and I assisted with some of them. Then I met Kent Twitchell and I assisted him in a couple of projects. He went to Otis too, and graduated a couple of years before I did. From Twitchell, I learned some things about scaling works of art from small to large.
An opportunity came along when I met the director of City Wide Murals program in 1980, Glenna Boltuch. I expressed an interest in doing a mural and she told me there were two buildings in Hollywood that were available and whose owners were interested in having a mural painted. The theme had to be Hollywood of course — I picked the biggest wall and decided to paint seven large iconic figures. When you’re young, you have the energy and vibration level to try something new. There was a voice inside my head saying “I want to do it! I want to do it!”
When you do murals, you’re out in the open. More people see them –– people who maybe wouldn’t go to museums and galleries. And it’s a whole different experience because you’re out in public, connecting with other people, with all the distractions that are a part of it. Making a mural is more physically taxing than painting inside the studio. If you have a south facing wall, you’re wrestling with the elements. The heat. The sun. The glare.
My first project for Metro was inspired by a trip to Venice, Italy. My wife is from Germany, and so we’ve had the opportunity to go to Europe quite a bit. Everybody walks there. It was incredible to observe this activity that’s unusual for us but so normal to them. My wife is an artist too, and a few years ago she had a five-week residency in Venice. I’d watch people travel on the canals, and I’d wonder what their lives were like. Every individual has a story.
Every morning, my wife and I talk about life, art and politics, So when the proposal [for the Westwood/VA Hospital Station] came up, we discussed it together.
“Well,” she told me, “you’re fascinated by diving into the details of your subjects’ personalities and psychologies. Why don’t you dig into the lives of veterans?”
So I reached out to a friend, a collector of Chicano art who is also in the National Guard, and I asked him if I might be able to interview some veterans he was in contact with.
We interviewed a bunch of people. We went to their homes and sat down with them. We wanted to learn about their childhoods and their interests as kids. We wanted to understand why they were interested in the military and what intrigued them about it. We selected five for the station artwork, where they are surrounded by the objects and symbols that shaped their identities.
The walkway in the station where my work will be displayed is very long and narrow. I wanted my art to create a sense of movement. That’s why I added a larger-than-life dog tag chain that twists and meanders as you walk through the space. I also wanted the artwork to be fun. So you’ll see these large objects floating around in the environment in this surreal and dreamlike way.
If I’m going to paint someone, I want to vibe with that person. I want to get to know them. I want to paint something deeper than the subject’s physical likeness. I think that comes from looking at those images in church as a kid. It’s a chance to get out of my own skin and enter that other personality. That’s what I want people to get out of my work. When the station opens, I hope that people might see themselves in my work. And I hope to remind viewers that everyone they pass on the street has a story that’s entirely their own.
Metro Art enhances the customer experience with innovative, award-winning visual and performing arts programming that encourages ridership and connects people, sites, and neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County. To learn more, please visit metro.net/art.
The Purple (D Line) Extension is under construction and being built in three sections. Section 3 that includes the Westwood/VA Hospital Station is forecast to open in 2027. More about the project: https://www.metro.net/projects/westside/
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Categories: Transportation News